‘Our work is undervalued’
Aged care staff tell the FWC their wage rates do not match the range, quality and importance of their work.
A registered nurse who gives in-home care to elderly patients in northern NSW told the Fair Work Commission (FWC) her work is valued by her patients and their families, “but not by my employer”.
In a written statement to the FWC, RN Pauline Breen, who has worked in aged care for the past 15 years, said she drives her car to the homes of between eight to 11 patients per day. Most have dementia.
“I enjoy working with my patients and speaking with them when I visit,” she said.
“I also enjoy working with my colleagues, even though we do not see each other very often. I like seeing my patients achieve better health outcomes and find that a very satisfying part of my job.”
She said, however, that her workload had increased due to clients’ growing care needs and COVID-19.
She is sometimes allocated only 15 minutes per client and 15 minutes’ travelling time between each client, and only 30 minutes per week for administration.
“This often does not reflect the actual work I need to perform. It is very difficult to fit in our meal breaks and contend with traffic conditions.
“We are all so busy, which makes it very difficult to properly manage the clinical care needs of patients, particularly when we are required to travel such long distances in a rural area.”
As a result, it was getting harder to visit patients during their preferred times.
“Also, relatives of some patients do not understand my workload and the number of patients I need to see in a shift, and express disappointment about the limited time I am able to spend with their loved one,” she added.
“Dealing with suspected cases of elder abuse is a particularly challenging part of my role.
“Caring for palliative patients and going through the end-of-life process with them and their families can also be quite stressful and upsetting.”
Training offered by her employer has become increasingly computer-based and not always in paid time, with only one computer terminal available for nurses to use in an office that is soon to close.
“I do not know what we will do for training when the office is closed,” she said.
She said COVID-19 has made work more hazardous and she now needs to don PPE, for example, to provide wound care and attend to suprapubic catheters.
Another health and safety concern is the failure to properly assess a client’s environment before the nurse’s initial visit.
“There are many issues that need to be assessed, such as access to dangerous driveways, vicious dogs, domestic violence, guns in the house etc.
“In many cases the client will have relatives living with them. Sometimes those relatives have drug or alcohol problems. This can be dangerous and unsafe for our staff.”
Pauline uses her own car, “and when the price of petrol goes up, this is an additional cost that I have to pay for”.
“Many of these additional issues are not factored into our wages or the time that is allocated for us to do our work.”
‘We are all so busy, which makes it very difficult to properly manage the clinical care needs of patients.’ — Pauline Breen
Working weekends to get by
An assistant in nursing (AiN) with 20 years’ experience told the FWC she believes aged care work is undervalued partly because the workforce is mostly female.
Linda Hardman, who is employed permanent part time for 75 hours per fortnight at a South Coast nursing home, said she worked weekends in order to get loadings.
“If I did not, I would not have enough money to get by,” said Linda, who gave written and verbal evidence to the FWC.
“I do not think that the pay is adequate for the work that is done.
“The sense I get is that people who are not actually on the floor, working in aged care, do not know or care how difficult the work actually is.
“I do not do it because it pays well. I do it because I feel like an AiN in my heart. I enjoy caring for people.”
Linda said she does feel valued by residents.
“They know what I do. They are encouraging and I have relationships with them.
“That is another difficult part of working in aged care. I do not think it is well understood that aged care workers have relationships with the residents, sometimes over many years.
“When someone passes away, you do not even have time to grieve. If you are lucky, your RN will tell you to go and have a cup of coffee because they know it has affected you.
“These are people that I look after and care for. That’s the heart of it. It is not just a job.
“I also feel valued by other aged care workers for the same reasons. They know what it is like. There is camaraderie and we uplift each other.”
Linda said COVID-19 had made it harder and sometimes impossible for families to visit aged care facilities.
“For me to provide proper care means that I spend an extra five or ten minutes with residents. Sometimes they cry and need a bit of TLC. That has to be done, but then it is harder to fit in all the other work.”